On and on and onsen

Kamakura, south of Tokyo, is the first feudal capital of Japan, before it became Kyoto; before it became Edo. It is steeped in history and overrun with temples.

As with so many of Japan’s cities – and all of its capitals – it is surrounded by mountains. The old ways stated that to the north be mountains; south, the ocean; east, river and; west, roads. This is obviously a simplification, but it was thought a city fulfilling these 4 basic tenants would be prosperous.

And in its day Kamakura must surely have been thus. Nowadays, a modern city sits serenely nestled amongst the valley’s folds, but in the foothills, across the plains and on mountain ridges temples stand.

And whilst the city rests the spirits stand watch from stately shrine gates; banners of prosperity and good fortune fluttering in the chill air and reflecting their message in still waters below.
A pilgrimage was in order to take in more of this grandeur. And so with boots strapped on and backpacks filled with goodies we launched ourselves onto the knotted mountain trails.
The – as it turned out – packed mountain trails…

It was the weekend and the tokyoites had descended to revel in spirituality (or something like that). So with many ’konnichiwa’s’ spouting forth from lips our trail was marched. Some 18kms… I think. However, the weather was not so kind to afford us with glorious views, but instead veiled saints and sinners alike in its dull grey visage.
Mountains melded into one and the horizon was merely a thought in the minds of those that stared out in search of it. Today was a day of greys, not of rich hues and vibrant colours.

But even in those moments, beauty is always lurking round the next corner… Or in this case, under the next bush.
And there is always the immensity of an 11.4 metre Buddha to be had. Ensconced in Daibutsu temple Kamakura’s iconic sight of a bronze Amida Buddha – the Buddha of infinite light – cannot fail to look beautiful, even under brooding skies.
The mottled copper idol frozen in a stance of calm contemplation.

After a long day’s walk and taxing the old ’noodle’ on spiritual matters a nice warm fire is needed…

… Well, we didn’t have one of those. But we had the next best thing. Or perhaps something even better.

An onsen.

This is the Japanese word for ’hot spring’. You see, living on a volcanic island has its perks! From north to South, and traversing east to west, Japan has hot volcanic water bubbling through – almost – every inch.

Whilst this wasn’t our first foray into an onsen, it was our first into an onsen renowned for its otherworldly waters.

After paying, changing and showering it was time to step into the waters’ warm embrace.

Stepping through the bathing room, shouts and low voiced conversations in Japanese echoed through the room and melted into the soft wooden beams overhead and on the walls around. The steam from the water eager to seep in and warm my bones rose from the inky blackness into which I would soon step. Yep. Inky blackness. The waters were an opaque blackness!

But inside is no fun!

A slide of the door. A rush of cold air, its cold tendrils more eager to grasp my skin than the steam from indoors. Slide the door closed.

And then, with anticipation I sank – Se-rene-l-yyy – into the ink. It felt thick and rich; like a good broth cures all ills, I could feel the aches and pains of weary muscles just melt.

In fact, I felt like I was sitting in a witch’s cauldron, so ’good broth’ may not be the best choice of words! For all I know, ’eye of newt and skin of toad’ was mixed into the water for good measure. And, oh, was it good.

And then, as the minutes wandered by I just sat and… Stewed!

The steam curled in the breeze, its tendrils clinging to the hot, black waters below and Kamakura just faded away and then we were moving once again…

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